Engaged Encounter Part I: House of God?

From the 10th through the 12th, my fiance and I participated in the Diocese of Pittsburgh‘s Catholic Engaged Encounter. We weren’t able to take the night classes downtown, so the retreat was our only option for satisfying the diocese requirements. I’d heard a range of appraisals of the experience, from "Eh – nothing special" to "hotbed for heterodoxy" to "a lot of fun".

Ultimately, I found the weekend to be a mixed bag. We learned some useful relationship lessons, but nothing substantial about what it means to enter the Sacrament of holy Matrimony. I also had issues with the site and masses held there. On the other hand, we made some friends. I didn’t want to lump everything together, so I’ve decided to post two entries. This one covers the site and the Masses. The second will cover the educational content.

The Kearns Spirituality Center is located on the campus of La Roche College in Allison Park, PA (about a half hour north of Pittsburgh). La Roche is founded and sponsored by the sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence. In theory, it’s a Catholic school, but I couldn’t find anything besides the word "Catholic" in their mission statement to demonstrate it. The CDP mission statement also seems rather generic. Not only does it not seem particularly Catholic, it’s barely Christian. Jesus’ name could be replaced with Buddha without having much impact. The mission statement for the "spirituality center" leaves even more to be desired. I didn’t know all this before I went, by the way. I only had the vague feeling that the name "Spirituality Center" portended quasi-New Age, universalist, and "progressive" nuttiness.

It’s 8PM Friday and we’ve arrived a little late at the center. It’s a fairly attractive building – modern, but tasteful. We take our bags to our rooms and join everyone else in the conference room (The tables were removed and all the chairs were arranged to face the white board on one of the long walls). I’ll save the content of the first talk for Part 2.

After the talk, the priest asked if anyone wanted to help out with Saturday’s mass. I asked him if he needed/wanted someone to serve altar. He seemed nonplussed but accepted my offer. I asked if he or the center had cassocks and surplices. He laughed and said I needn’t worry about that. I said in reply that it wasn’t a worry; I wanted to wear them. He chuckled somewhat nervously and said I could "take the day off" and serve as-is. That exchange didn’t give me a comfortable feeling. I felt like a child who’d been assured that his tooth was placed adequately under the pillow and that the Tooth Fairy would indeed come. Perhaps that’s an odd analogy, but it captures the feeling that a genuine concern of mine was met with benevolent condescension.

I brushed off the bizarre exchange and went with my fiance to visit the chapel. The Visitation Chapel is shaped a bit like a magic wand. The hallway is the shaft. Before the hallway ends and the gathering space begins, there is a burbling font. I’m really not sure if Holy Water flowed through it or not, but I gave it benefit of the doubt. I’m really not fond of those things. They just don’t seem reverent or tasteful.

Anyhow, after blessing ourselves, we proceeded into the chapel proper, which, as a six-pointed star, serves as the head of the wand. As with the exterior, the architecture is tasteful and attractive, if a bit plain. It’s a comfortable room with large, clear windows dominating about half the walls. There’s an inoffensive wood cutout on the right that depicts the Visitation. On the left is a baby grand piano. The ceiling is high and comes to a flattened peak with small skylights.

There are no pews. Instead, there are individual chairs arranged around the room, facing inward to face the altar. There are no kneelers. That really annoyed me.

Looking past the chairs, we see the altar. No altar clothe adorns it’s wooden surface. It’s round. Put some bar stools around it and you’d have a fine table. Why make it round? It’s not like they want to incense the whole thing, assuming they even had the implements. It’s a monument to pointlessness. I thought "progressives" moved the altar away from the wall so the priest could face the people. How can he do that with people seated on every side of him?

[Stained-Glass-Crucifix.jpg] At this point, I’m quite irritated and my blood pressure is shooting up. It’s too bad the situation didn’t improve. Behind the altar, hanging from wires is one of the ugliest crucifixes I’ve ever seen. It’s a stained glass work of abstract "art". I call it "Jesus of the Crab Hands". Below it, on a small table that resembles a nightstand, resides what must be the tabernacle. I only know that because there is a lit candle next to it. Nothing about the box itself reveals its purpose – no obvious directionality or door. It’s about the size and shape of a very large shoebox. It’s black and the sides have vertical strips of hammered metal. It looks more like a rectangular hatbox than a tabernacle. At least it’s not hidden away in a corner. Then again, it might as well be if nobody recognizes it for what it is.

Everything about this place screams of inclusiveness overriding tradition and orthodoxy. The tyranny of PC church building apparently eschews the inclusion of traditional forms of reverence. A Quaker might feel at home there, but I didn’t. It’s not that most of its aspects are overtly illicit, but rather that the room doesn’t feel like a sanctuary. It’s more like a lobby, waiting room, or perhaps a small food court. I can imagine plants and sculptures adorning it. It’d be a delightful place in which to read and sip a coffee, but not worship.


[labaryinth.gif] That night and over the course of the weekend, I looked around the building and grounds for signs of authentic Catholicism. I didn’t find many. The bookshelves held more zen how-tos than Catholic, or even Protestant spiritual works. The only author whose name jumped out at me was Thomas Merton, who I’ve been told wandered a bit off the orthodox path in his later years. There were few genuine crucifixes to be seen. Most were resurrexifixes or plain crosses. At least one of the crucifixes was mounted next to door and was obscured by opening it. Two bright spots were the meditation walk and outdoor labyrinth. What the facility tour site doesn’t show or tell is that the meditation connects with a path lined with statues depicting the stations of the cross. I guess mentioning it would be un-inclusive.

Mass on Saturday wasn’t really noteworthy. I was the only extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. We didn’t sing. The homily was forgettable and harmless. The only thing that bothered me was that nobody knelt for the consecration. I realize it’s only optional in the absence of kneelers, but that doesn’t stop people at Heinz Chapel. Rather than draw attention to myself, I decided to "do as the Romans" and remain standing. All the while, I was thinking to myself, "Kneeling, aside from showing proper reverence for the Real Presence, is the norm in this diocese".

"In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise." – General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 43

Sunday was a different matter. I chose not to serve so I could sit next to my fiance. Before mass started, copies of the Gather songbook were handed out. As a convert who goes to mass with the Oratorian Fathers 95%, I was unaware of what lay in store for me. The priest asked if anyone could play piano. Silence answered him, so he informed us that we’d be singing a capella. Our opening hymn? "Canticle of the Sun" by Marty Haugen. I refused to sing. That’s not dignified mass music. It’d be fine for a praise and worship sing, but not the Sacred Liturgy. I’m a proud member of SMMMHDH, the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas. I’d like to ban Ernie Sands, too, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

At the offertory, there wasn’t a collection. We’d paid a lot of money for the weekend already. Also, donations were solicited earlier in the day. When a couple went to a table in the back to get the gifts, the priest instructed them to bring the donation box. He proceeded to place it on the altar! If you don’t know why that’s wrong, read Redemptionis Sacramentum [70]. One good act of disobedience and sacrilege deserves another. For the consecration, we were asked to make a circle around altar. This, too, is a reprobated practice. My fiance and I joined the circle but remained on the side opposite the priest.

The homily was again forgettable and harmless. On a side note, I don’t like when priests leave the pulpit to pace back and forth. It’s distracting and reminds me of televangelists. To close this reverent experience, an irritating 5/4 time piece by Ernie Sands called "Sing of the Lord’s Goodness" was sung. Again, I refrained. Who the heck told him 5/4 is a good signature for church music?!? The timing and the melody strongly reminded me of several songs in "Jesus Christ Superstar". Don’t get me wrong – I love that musical (it’s one of the few I can tolerate). It’s just woefully inappropriate for the liturgy. I’d call the songs hippy music, but most of the hippies I’ve met have far better taste. Give me "In the Garden of Eden" ("Inna Gadda Da Vida"), ala "The Simpsons", any day. 😉

So that’s it. Most of my gripes are of an aesthetic nature, but some aren’t. If I were the bishop, I’d disband the CDP, renovate Kearns, and censure the CEE priest. Why doesn’t Bishop Wuerl have a spine? I know he’s an orthodox guy, but I’ve yet to hear of him keeping rogue progressives in check. I’ll be posting soon about a scandal involving St. Agnes Church, which belongs to Carlow University, another CINO school.

[A small quote from the GIRM, regarding kneeling, was added September 28. – Funky]

Read part 2 here.

This entry was posted in essays, editorials, fisks, and rants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on by .

About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

8 thoughts on “Engaged Encounter Part I: House of God?

  1. Tom

    “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” actually kinda reminds me of “Take Five” by the late, great jazz saxophonist Dave Brubeck. . . Not that that’s a good thing, mind you.

    I’m betting you guys didn’t say the rosary, go to confession, or have Adoration, either. I guess those just aren’t inclusive enough. It’s just too much to ask Catholics to be Catholic any more.

    Thanks for the link to the anti-H&H website. I joined up.

  2. EmilyE

    Hey, I finished reading the post (silly me, after commenting the first time I hadn’t clicked on the “More” link).

    It sounds like your experience was a lot more… well, non-Catholic than ours. Fr. Bryan had warned us that ours might be that bad, but I think we lucked out. Although we didn’t have Mass on Saturday, which you apparently did, the Mass on Sunday was relatively unoffensive, except for the Engaged Encounter books on the altar.

    Are you going to write a letter to anyone at the diocese telling them how weird everything was? I think you should.

  3. Amy

    I can’t wait to read part two. Something tells me your thoughts are going to be a bit like mine.
    Dh & I also attended an engaged encounter weekend in the diocese, though we attended at Gilmary where the chapel would have been just a bit more to your liking (had pews & kneelers, the altar was not round)

  4. EmilyE

    We went to the one at St. Paul’s Monastery. Where was yours?

    Anyway, I had some of the same thoughts. We didn’t learn anything that deep about the sacrament of Matrimony, but we did get the opportunity to talk about a lot of issues that we might not have brought up otherwise.

    And the Mass was interesting, too… Adam didn’t like the fact that they had us put our pink books on the altar. That was definitely a little weird. The music, of course, was cheesy, but not so egregious as to be intolerable.

    I don’t remember the priest at our retreat mentioning anything about Confession. I think he would have listened to them if we asked him, but it was never mentioned.


  5. Pingback: Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Engaged Encounter Part II: Three to Get Married?

  6. whizkidforte

    “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” actually kinda reminds me of “Take Five” by the late, great jazz saxophonist Dave Brubeck. . . Not that that’s a good thing, mind you.

    Here’s a fact for those who loathe the liturgical music currently in use (you know, the Haugen-Haas malarkey):

    Ernest Sands penned “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” in 1981, a year after Dave Brubeck became Catholic like me. I think that the coincidence is the reason why the tune, accompaniment, and meter all bear a passing resemblance of his friend Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” (the one with the sax solo and all) in which he and Brubeck performed in their quintet in 1959. It seems as if Sands wrote this in tribute of a jazz-great-turned-convert or if he concocted a jazz-meets-Haugen-Haas hymn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *